First Impressions

The Real O'Neals

Aired on: ABC

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                I'm a fan of a great many ABC comedies - The Goldbergs (though it took a little while to grow on me), Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish and The Middle.  Some of the draw to these comedies are the timeframes, that nostalgia factor.  They all, for the most part, have a narrator that offers up extra comedic dialogue - it worked for The Wonder Years, and it appears to work for these shows.  And the family is always slightly dysfunctional.  So when ABC began promoting The Real O'Neals, a comedy about a seemingly devout Catholic family whose reality is themselves, and the show seemed to be in the same format as other ABC comedies I was already watching, I decided to check it out.

                The Real O'Neals debuted on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 in a special two episode event, nestled between episodes of The Goldbergs and Modern Family.  We were introduced to Eileen O'Neal (Martha Plimpton), the matriarch of the Chicago-based family whose life seems to be centered around the Catholic Church.  Husband Pat (Jay R. Ferguson) is a police officer.  Oldest son Jimmy (Matt Shively) is an athlete.  Middle child Kenny (Noah Galvin) is hiding something, but Eileen isn't certain what.  Youngest daughter Shannon (Bebe Wood) is an aggressive charity collector. 

                But we soon learn the secret Kenny is hiding - he's gay and terrified of coming out to his strict Catholic mother.  However, during a fund raiser event for the church, Pat decides that his family doesn't talk to each other enough and opens up the floor for discussion.  It is here that the O'Neals learn that Eileen and Pat have been in therapy and Pat is contemplating divorce.  Jimmy reveals he is anorexic.  Shannon reveals she is a thief and she was using the money she was collecting for charity to buy herself a car.  Unfortunately, it's Kenny's revelation that comes as a big shocker to Eileen...that is until she realizes that everyone at the church function has overheard the family talk.

                Eileen, being the woman who believes she has to fix everything, sets out to do just that - making plans to get rid of the car gotten by ill means, cook her son Jesus pancakes so he will finally eat and making her son un-gay by pushing a relationship with the person who used to be his girlfriend.  Dad has his own ideas how to fix things.  Of course, it all backfires in the most hilarious way.

                The pilot episode was a bit slow and I didn't find it as funny as I though I would, though I did enjoy Kenny's vivid imagination, picturing Jesus dining at the table with him and a hunky model talking to him from the mirror as he prepares to try sex with a female.  But the second episode, The Real Papaya, was actually the one that drew the most laughs.  Pilots have a tendency to be a tad stilted, so it's usually the second episode, in which the actors are more comfortable with their characters, that usually generate more laughs.  I loved Martha Plimpton in this role.  I have always thought she has excellent comedic timing and this role is perfect for her.  In fact, I think she steals the show, though the rest of the cast is pretty funny. 

                I expect that The Real O'Neals storyline will garner much controversy, especially from Catholic groups thinking their religious fervor is being treated in a bad light, but I see a different side to this.  Sure, the show pokes fun at some Catholic beliefs, but it addresses more than this - it touches upon a family's inability to see things/changes in its individual members because they are so focused on one this case, the church.  I, for one, enjoyed the show and will definitely recommend it to others when it starts in its regular timeslot of Tuesday at 8:30pm EST. 


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